Opinion: Multistakeholder crucial for important standards

Hobbling Wi-Fi is more than just a technical issue. The U.S. and EU strongly advocate public participation in important Internet decisions, as NTIA Chief Larry Strickling makes clear below. The U.S. in particular has fought hard at the ITU for our version of “multistakeholder.” The U.S. actions and motives at ITU can be questioned but the idea of public participation is sound. 

Some of the most important Internet regulations are currently made in industry bodies like 3GPP and ATIS. 3GPP on wireless, ATIS and the Broadband Forum on DSL, ETSI and other standards groups have generally done superb jobs on the technology. For example, the work of Tom Starr and others in ATIS and ITU twenty years ago is the reason interference between DSL lines can manage interference.

The IEEE and IETF standards groups are completely open and obviously have done important work. As Leslie Daigle of the Internet Society writes

 “Allowing the community of Internet technology developers and users to create and experiment, build without permission, and feed their real-world experience back into the standards process, supports the uniquely innovative character that is the hallmark of the Internet. The top-down imposition of mandatory standards runs contrary to this process, preventing standards from developing in response to fast-paced technological evolution and market needs.”

The Internet is designed to bring people together and to increase communication on multiple levels. On a human level, the Internet brings people together socially based on common interests and by allowing independent networks to communicate with each other. On a technical level, the established protocols of the Internet help enable systems to communicate and execute tasks seamlessly. Many of these protocols would not be possible without the collaboration of global standards development organizations working collaboratively, in an open manner.

Standards developed with global input from a diversity of sources through open processes have the greatest chance of producing outcomes that are technically exceptional, leverage cutting edge engineering expertise, and support interoperability and global competitiveness in technology markets.”

Active public participation is necessary

when issues go beyond technology, such as the current debate over LTE-U/LAA. The telcos are looking to control half or more of the Wi-FI/unlicensed spectrum, already getting crowded. Wi-Fi can over time move an additional 1/3rd or more of LTE traffic from free to paid service. The dollars involved are very substantial. That gives telcos and their suppliers powerful incentive to use “technical” standards to hobble competition. This example is particularly egregious because LTE-U/LAA is being rushed through without any field testing at all. Numerous respected engineers, including three Marconi Fellows, have been skeptical. The only tests so far are in the labs of Qualcomm, which hopes for $billions in related royalties. I’ve reported the process is inappropriate in many ways. The lead on the committee is from Qualcomm. 11 telcos have filed a proposal that would prevent competitors from using LTE-U by tying it to telco licenses. There has been no public involvement. The companies involved aren’t evil but they do have severe conflicts of interest. 

In addition, under a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, organizations in which “decisionmakers are active market participants” have clear liability under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Standards bodies often take actions that would be clear violations if the companies privately banded together. This decision makes it very attractive  to move beyond the corporate-only policy. 

I’ve asked Strickling, Sepulveda, Kathy Brown and the leaders of ATIS and 3GPP for comment and will print in full how they respond.  


From Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Washington, DC January 27, 2015

—As prepared for delivery—

“As we previewed last January, the year turned out to be an important year for Internet governance, bookended by the NetMundial conference in Brazil in the spring and the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference in Korea in the fall.  Throughout the year, the United States remained a vocal advocate of the bottom-up, consensus-based approach to Internet governance known as the multistakeholder model.  The successful outcomes at NetMundial and the Plenipotentiary demonstrate that more and more nations are joining the United States in showing their support for this model of Internet governance.  They do so not because the multistakeholder model is an end in and of itself, but because it holds the greatest proven potential for promoting both innovation and inclusion.”


For the record, I’ve signed the Open Standards Declaration. Dave Burstein

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